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Cancer is leading cause of death for firefighters

It's not just fire that harmful, Fort Worth Firefighters Association President says, "the smoke is actually extremely dangerous for us."

FORT WORTH, Texas — When duty calls, it's not just the fire that's harmful for firefighters. 

According to President of the Fort Worth Firefighters Association, Michael Glynn, "the smoke is actually extremely dangerous for us."

The International Association of Fire Fighters dedicated January as Fire Fighter Cancer Awareness month to "to deliver targeted education and best practices and resources to reduce the impact of cancer on fire fighters."

According to IAFF, occupational cancer is the leading cause of death among firefighters, accounting for more than 65 percent of the line-of-duty deaths added to the IAFF Fire Fighter Memorial Wall of Honor each year.

Glynn has been a firefighter for 20 years and says the cancer causing agents can often go undetected for weeks, months, or even years. 

Continued smoke inhalation is what doctors say can cause lung scarring and even chronic lung disease.

Dr. Sreerama Shetty, researcher at UT Health Science Center at Tyler says lung scarring in humans is "irreversible". 

In order to prevent scarring and cancer, Glynn says IFFA reminds firefighters to practice safety precautions such as wearing the proper equipment. Glynn adds, immediately after the fire, firefighters are to take a "good, hot shower" to reduce the carcinogens from their bodies and pores.

A long-term solution developing in Tyler could be on the way. According to Dr. Shetty, health professionals are "looking for a complete resolution" in the form of medicine. 

Researchers at UTHSC are awaiting the trials phase of developing a drug that could reverse lung scarring. Dr. Shetty says he believes the IBF trials will begin this year. He says he gets emails every day from people suffering and hopes "we have a way to help those people.

Although it hasn't been tested on firefighters specifically, the drug was tested on cigarette smokers and researchers saw a reversal in six months; however that chronic disease is emphysema, not fibrosis.

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